Recorded in Englewood Cliffs; NJ; June 7, 1960.
Altoist Gigi Gryce's next to last album before permanently dropping out of jazz has been reissued on this CD. With trumpeter Richard Williams, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Julian Euell, and drummer Mickey Roker also part of what was a working quintet, Gryce (underrated as a soloist and a particularly strong composer) had one of his finest bands. The group swings its way through two of Gryce's lesser-known originals and three then-recent obscurities. Interesting and generally fresh straight-ahead jazz.
All Music Guide
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The greatest attention is given to those who stake out new territories, in whatever field, and probably that is as it should be. In jazz, such attention is focused on the Parkers, the Monks, and today, on such as Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Cecil Taylor. But there are other musicians whose temperament directs that they be the ones to look more carefully at ground which has already been covered, to see if what has already been done cannot be done again in a fresh different way.
This latter is Gigi Gryce's method. Not one of the great experimenters, he has always been concerned with the re-exploration of previously introduced forms. And, as a rather logical extension of that he is not a great believer in newness for its own sake, which is the road he believes much current jazz to be travelling.
Part of this insistence on the new is, in Gigi's opinion, bound up with what he feels to be a lack of maturity on the part of many of the younger players. He is also aware of the pernicious effect of some jazz writing, which can build up a young player, and therefore his ego, to the point where the youngster does not feel he has to do the apprentice work necessary in any art or craft. There are, he feels, too many soloists and not enough young men with a true group feeling One incident he tells in connection with this was the night a drummer (and Gigi is especially sensitive about drummers) had been playing extremely complicated, inhibiting figures behind him. When it came time for the drummer's solo, Gigi began to play again. After the number, the drummer, highly angry asked him why he had done it. "Well," Gigi replied, "weren't you soloing during my solo?"
There is no such friction on the present recording, because, to Gigi, the presentation of a group is always more important than the presentation of any one musician or piece of music. Therefore, it is not until one has heard the entire album that a complete picture emerges.
All of this music is concerned with the blues, in most cases quite directly. Blues, of course, lie at the core of jazz, and musicians will probably be devising new ways to play them as long as the music exists. This recording coniains five different approaches, just as an earlier Gigi Gryce Quintet set (Sayin' Something, Prestige / New Jazz 8230) was also an all-blues collection. With the exception of bassist Julian Euell, who was not on the earlier record, all the members of the group remain the same. Gryce, of course, plays alto saxophone, and the other major soloist is trumpeter Richard Williams. Williams has one of the most beautiful tones among the younger players, and the fact that he works with a man with the ideas of Gryce may allow him to mature his talents in the proper way. Pianist Richard Wyands and drummer Mickey Roker have been members of the Gryce quintet for quite a while, so the rapport between the members enables to achieve variety on an all-blues set.
The Rat Race Blues is Gigi's attempt to depict musically the rushing around of a big city, with "everyone in a different bag trying to get something going". To Gigi, the musical equivalent of that situation lay in having each of the soloists play in a different key; hence the occasional dissonance in ensemble passages. Scored for a larger group, the Gigi Gryce Orch-Tette, The Rat Race Blues is the background music for a soon-to-be-released film short entitled On the Sound, which will probably have national release in art houses.
Strange Feelin', a Sam Finch composition which has had lyrics put to it by Jon Hendricks, is in the gospel vein. It is not, however, as Gigi explains it, in the current artificial soul vein, but merely an attempt to convey one of the several moods at the quintet's disposal.
Boxer's Blues, by Gigi, has had lyrics put to it by jazz writer Ira Gitler. The story is of a champion boxer who, because of the wrong women, goes rapidly from the top to the bottom. As yet the piece has not yet been done vocally, but Gryce feels it would make an excellent piece of special material for the right singer.
The two tunes on the second side of the record, Blues in Bloom and Monday Through Sunday, are by a good friend of Gigi's, the singer-composer Norman Mapp. The first uses some of the chord extensions which have recently been part of the work of Miles Davis. The second is intended for relaxation - "jazz to eat by", as Gigi puts it.
Within the framework of the blues, the five men involved have managed to create a totally different mood on each of the five tracks, a considerable feat in itself.
As Gryce listened to the record, several things occurred to him. Already, while still in his thirties, he is a member of an older generation of musicians, and concern for musicians who can quite properly be called older is a great part of his makeup. While he himself feels that he has been influenced more by pianists than by other hornmen, there are certain musicians who have helped shape his style whom he feels never got the recognition they deserved. "Even Bird was not the greatest," he says bluntly. "He was the greatest at what he did, and he opened up new areas, which he should have done, but he was not the greatest. Neither was Hawkins."
Expanding on this point, he feels that all the greats owe things to other musicians, that there are unsung heroes of jazz, local musicians who may have added much to the styles of men we revere, but who were never themselves acclaimed. Four in particular come to Gryce's mind, and he feels that mention should be made of them somewhere, so that others may know. They are all saxophonists, and all of them are still active, if only part-time, in music. The first of these is altoist Ray Shep, from Gigi's home town of Pensacola, Florida, who played with Noble Sissle. Then there is Goon Gardner of the Earl Hines band, and Gigi gives some idea of his prowess by saying that because he had the alto chair with Hines, Parker, when he joined the band, was asked to play tenor. The last altoist of the group was a Cab Calloway musician, Harry Curtis. And perhaps the highest accolade of all is reserved for a Calloway tenor saxophonist, Julius Pogue, similar to Lester Young without having heard him, who now drives a cab in Washington and plays occasionally. "He could make you cry with his tone," Gigi says.
Unlike many musicians, Gigi is eager to give such credit. He feels it only logical that as a man gets older, until physical disability starts to set in, that his playing should improve. He points accurately to the situation in classical music, in which most of the master instrumentalists are sixty or more. And he feels that jazz' almost fanatical insistence on the new and the young are making us unaware of some of the important contributions of the older musicians. If he had a big band, he says, there would be both young and old men in it, and if possible, all of the four men above would have chairs. The kind of contribution which Gigi himself has made can be heard instantly on this record, and if more men followed his example in giving credit where it is due, it might turn out that he has contributed importantly in an area he had not thought of. Both musically and personally, more men like Gigi Gryce are needed.
- Joe Goldberg